Be the Light

Be the Light

2018.12.06-07

Everyday Miracles

Advent 2018

 

“We can find meaning and reward by serving some higher purpose than ourselves, a shining purpose, the illumination of a Thousand Points of Light…We all have something to give.”  President George Herbert Walker Bush recited those words in his 1989 Inaugural Address after having been sworn in as the 41st President of the United States of America. 

 

In 1987 community advocates found New York Cares.  In 1989 President George H. W. Bush’s inaugural address invoked the vision of a “thousand points of light,” and invited the nation to take action through service to their fellow citizens.  President Bush established the Daily Point of Light Award for individuals making a difference in 1990.   During his administration, President Bush formally recognized more than 1,000 volunteers as “points of light.” He advocated that “points of light” demonstrated how “a neighbor can help a neighbor.” This award is now administered by the Points of Light non-profit organization.  This organization, in response to President Bush’s call to action, was created as an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization to encourage and empower the spirit of service. This nonprofit has extended President Bush’s vision and his understanding that “what government alone can do is limited, but the potential of the American people knows no limits.”

 

In 1993 President Bill Clinton signed the National and Community Service Trust Act, which initiated the founding of AmeriCorps, a national service program that engaged Americans in voluntary action to address the country’s most critical issues.  In 1997 former and sitting Presidents united to challenge the nation to think anew at The Presidents’ Summit for America’s Future.  Presidents Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford and first lady Nancy Reagan convened to discuss the nation’s pressing social issues and discuss about their role in meeting the needs of the country and world through voluntary action.

 

In 2001 the United Nations proclaimed the Year of the Volunteer.  The Points of Light Foundation joined nearly 1,000 national and international partners participating in the year of service and engaged its large network of individuals, groups and corporate partners in service to others.  President George W. Bush creates USA Freedom Corps in his 2002 State of the Union address to build on the countless acts of service, sacrifice and generosity that followed Sept. 11, 2001. 

 

ServiceNation, an unprecedented coalition of service and volunteer leadership to inspire a new era of voluntary citizen service in America, was launched in 2008.  Points of Light joined organizing committee members including Be the Change Inc., City Year and Civic Enterprises.  The next year in 2009 President Barack Obama signed the historic Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act heralding in the next phase of the nation’s renewed call to service.  That same year President Obama announced the United We Serve campaign to engage more Americans in service. Members of President Obama’s administration participated in service projects and advocate service as a solution to our nation’s most pressing issues.

 

Also in 2009 the Points of Light organization hosted the Presidential Forum on Service, uniting President Obama and President George H. W. Bush. The forum recognized the 20th anniversary of President Bush’s invocation of a thousand points of light and celebrated the volunteer sector’s tremendous gains during the past two decades under Points of Light’s leadership.

 

As we say our final goodbye to President George H W Bush as he is interred at his Presidential Library in Texas, we must work to make sure that his vision continues.  “I have spoken of a thousand points of light, of all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good. We will work hand in hand, encouraging, sometimes leading, sometimes being led, rewarding. We will work on this in the White House, in the Cabinet agencies. I will go to the people and the programs that are the brighter points of light, and I will ask every member of my government to become involved. The old ideas are new again because they are not old, they are timeless: duty, sacrifice, commitment, and a patriotism that finds its expression in taking part and pitching in.”  This is how everyday miracles are created and followed through each day.  One person can make a difference by being a point of light.

A Light in the Darkness

A Light in the Darkness

2018.12.2-3

Everyday Miracles

Advent 2018

 

It is the darkest time of the year for most of us.  The days are much shorter and at least once every three days someone during the past two weeks has opened the curtains or door in my house after 5:00 PM and said “My goodness!  It is dark already!”  I have to wonder what mankind thought centuries ago, long before scientists had given the seasons names and we understood the rotation of the planets around the sun and what the twinkling lights in the night sky really are.

 

It is said that in trying to explain their natural world, people created the myths of religion.  Some of the greatest mysteries of nature that are explained in mythology are the origins of mankind, the four seasons, and how flowers got their colors and names.  Basically, these myths were told because with the intention to bring people together. Stories were told to help people understand difficult ideas and help people in a community to think in the same way.

 

Advent is that time of year which seems a bit bipolar.  If you are religious, most scripture readings discuss the end of the world, the end times as they are known.  The end time (also called end times, end of time, end of days, last days, final days, or eschaton) is a future time-period described variously in the eschatologies of several world religions (both Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic), which believe that world events will reach a final climax.  Eschatology is a part of theology concerned with the final events of the history of the world and/or mankind.  Succinctly put, it is the doctrine of last times or things.

 

Advent is, however, the season that ushers in the highest order of a miracle possible – the human birth of a deity or deity-related offspring.  A miracle is something which is statistically and scientifically impossible, as we understand such things and their realistic possibilities.  A miracle is not easily explained by natural causes alone and quite often has the result of changing lives.

 

The myths told to explain the natural existence of the world and mankind were no less miraculous than those of various religions and their messiah or savior.  This year the miracle of light in the Jewish tradition, Hanukah, began on Gregorian calendar date as the First Sunday in Advent.  Both are symbolically celebrated with the lighting of a candle. 

 

At this time of year when darkness is most prevalent in the natural world in the Northern Hemisphere, the symbolism of light is important.  Ninety percent of the world’s population lives in the Northern Hemisphere and so most people are in the darkest time of the year now.  Light also plays a prominent role in the discussion of the end times.

 

The Abrahamic faiths maintain a linear cosmology, with end-time scenarios containing themes of transformation and redemption. In Judaism, the term “end of days” makes reference to the Messianic Age and includes an in-gathering of the exiled Jewish diaspora, the coming of the Messiah, the resurrection of the righteous, and the world to come.  Hanukah is the celebration to commemorate the lasting of one night’s oil for a lamp to give light miraculously lasting eight days.

 

Some sects of Christianity depict the end time as a period of tribulation that precedes the second coming of Christ, who will face the Antichrist along with his power structure and usher in the Kingdom of God.  A popular theme in Christianity is that each person is “the light of the world”.  Christians are encouraged not to hide their faith or the good works it should encourage.

 

In Islam, the Day of Judgement is preceded by the appearance of the al-Masih al-Dajjal, and followed by the descending of Isa (Jesus). Isa will triumph over the false messiah, or the Antichrist, which will lead to a sequence of events that will end with the sun rising from the west and the beginning of the Qiyamah (Judgment day).  Since the sun normally rises in the east, the change would be miraculous in proclaiming the end of the world as we currently know it.

 

Non-Abrahamic faiths tend to have more cyclical world-views, with end-time eschatologies characterized by decay, redemption, and rebirth. In Hinduism, the end time occurs when Kalki, the final incarnation of Vishnu, descends atop a white horse and brings an end to the current Kali Yuga. In Buddhism, the Buddha predicted that his teachings would be forgotten after 5,000 years, approximately the year 2300 ACE on the Gregorian calendar.   After this great turmoil is to follow, according to the Buddha.   A bodhisattva named Maitreya is expected to appear and rediscover the teaching of dharma. The ultimate destruction of the world will then come through seven suns.  Again, the proclaiming of seven suns will bring great light to the darkness of the end times.

 

Advent is considered a time of preparation.  Then what, you might ask, are we to prepare?  Should we become doomsday preppers?  For four seasons the National Geographic Channel had a program entitled “Doomsday Preppers”.  The program explored those preparing for a great apocalypse, the end of the world, and their efforts to survive such.  As one who has walked through a category five hurricane and been caught in a tornado, I can appreciate their wanting to be prepared.  The truth is, though, we all face catastrophes each week.

 

Advent for me is a time to prepare for living, not the end of it all.  I think it is to our advantage to see beyond the turmoil and notice the everyday miracles that exist within life’s daily grind, the routine of living that has both joy and disorder.  During this series we will discuss those everyday miracles and hopefully begin to see more of them in our own living.

 

Some people claim such everyday miracles are simply matters of coincidence.  A coincidence is a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances that have no apparent causal connection with one another.  Not much different than the definition of a miracle, huh?  Sometimes our coincidences are very mundane.  I took the dog out at 2:58 AM and noticed how brightly the constellation Orion appeared in the night sky.  I came inside to see a movie about this constellation start on television.  It was not really life-changing but it was a neat little coincidence that as the characters told two different myths about the same three stars (known as Orion’s belt), I could look out my window and see them in the night sky.  For a moment, the fictional characters and I were connected.

 

Everyday miracles connect us to our living and those with which we share this planet.  The light of the world is the same sun we share, the same gift of a smile we give to others.   As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize. A blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black curious eyes of a child, our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”

 

We Are the Village

We Are the Village

2018.11.29-30

Growing Community

 

Several years ago Jacob Devaney penned:  “No matter how old we are, we are children of ‘the village’, the community that raised us and supported us helped to shape the way we see the world.”  Many of us had nurturing families in which we lived but many others did not.  Regardless of the family unit or lack thereof, the community around us was our village.  Pam Leo explains that How we treat the child, the child will grow up to treat the world.”

 

This is not a new concept.  What we know of ancient civilizations is based upon the archaeological finds of their communities.  The shards of pottery tell us how and what they ate.  Pieces of ancient tools help understand how they lived and in what types of abodes.  The community is as much a vital part of our living as the air we breathe. 

 

“It takes a village to raise a child” is an Igbo and Yoruba proverb that exists in many different African languages. It reflects the emphasis African cultures place on family and community and may have its origins in a biblical worldview.  This proverb is so widely used in Africa that there are equivalent statements in most African languages, including “One knee does not bring up a child” in Sukuma and “One hand does not nurse a child” in Swahili.  The widespread use of this proverb by cultures around the world shows its timelessness and relevancy.  The saying is used in America to evoke feelings of community on the small scale as well as on the national and even global scale.

 

Some believe the proverb may have its origins in the Bible, since it reflects a worldview regarding unity and self-sacrifice expressed in several passages of the Bible, such as Ecclesiastes 4:9,12 and Isaiah 49:15-16.  This worldview is commonly seen in African cultures today. In many African communities it is common for a child to be raised by its extended family, in many cases spending extended periods of time living with grandparents, aunts and uncles. Even the wider community sometimes gets involved, as children are seen as a blessing from God upon the entire community.  We could debate for hours which came first – the Biblical scriptures or the African communities.  One thing is certain – We need community.

 

Robin Grille is an Australian psychologist and writer who has authored “Parenting for a Peaceful World”.  He encourages parents and the community to consider how our daily lives are influencing our children.  A fractured society cannot be an effective community.  We must work together and be supportive in order for the future generations to understand how to form, grow, and continue the concept of community. 

 

Health and fitness coach Jen Waak believes there are six vital reasons for us to grow community.  First there is the concept of Collective wisdom. No one person ever has all of the answers, consulting with experts is always going to give you better information.  Secondly, life pushes our limits. When working alone, it’s oftentimes too easy to give up when things get hard. By surrounding yourself with others working toward a similar goal or objective, you’ll get motivation, support, and friendly competition to push yourself just a bit further than you would have done on your own.

 

Support and belief are the third reason for developing community. Some days those big goals just seem impossible. On those days when you most want to give up, you need to lean on your community the most. They believe in you—probably more than you belief in yourself.  Next, there is the need for new ideas.   When you are working within a community of like-minded people, the wisdom of crowds is considerably greater than any one person working alone. Our divergent world views and lenses mean that we all approach the exact same problem slightly differently. 

 

Fifth, communities offer borrowed motivation. Even on those days when your belief in yourself isn’t waning, doing what needs to get done can often seem overwhelming. Look around your community and be inspired!  Lastly, we need community because there is the need for accountability.  If you’re an uber-responsible person, you may not want to admit to people you care about who are pulling for you that something didn’t get done. There’s nothing like having to be accountable to others to up your game.  Allowing others to help is hard, but it ultimately raises everyone’s game.

 

Khalil Gibran spoke of this concept of community and children, the need for the village to be a sustainable community in this poem.

“Your children are not your children.

They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you.

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the make upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness.

For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He also loves the bow that is stable.”

 

An old African folksong asks “Who is watching the children?…It Takes a whole village to raise a child.”  It takes a community to grow a world.  Hopefully this month we have all realized the need to be communal and in community with each other.  I will let Idowu Koyenikan on this month’s topic of Growing community:  “There is immense power when a group of people with similar interests gets together to work toward the same goals.”

 

 

Importance of Community

The Importance of Community

2018.11.26-28

Growing Community

 

Good health is a positive thing and we all know at least one thing we should change in order to improve our health.  For instance, most of us could improve our diet.  Eating right, that is to say eating a balanced diet helps to combat disease and weight gain.  We all should have at least one hundred and fifty minutes of moderate physical activity each week.  When we opt to walk instead of drive, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or even pace while on the telephone, we make positive changes for our personal health.

 

Fitness is not just a personal thing.  It improves with community.  Those one hundred and fifty minutes of physical activity improve our mood and cognitive function and that makes us more productive members of our community.  This means we are better able to be useful, offer assistance and guidance to those around us.  It also means we are more likely to form connections with those in our neighborhood, professional and personal networks.  This increases the opportunities for positive relationships. 

 

Communities, by their very nature, contain a diversity of opinion, ideas, and knowledge.  IN the early twentieth century, there was a group of men who called themselves to “vagabonds.”  This diverse community of businessmen and politicians forms a camping community.  Membership included Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, the occasional US President and leading scientists.  The Vagabonds were a perfect example of how communities, large and small, are beneficial. 

 

It is impossible to do everything by yourself.  A community offers the prospect of meeting others who can render skills that you might have lacking.  It is not wrong to utilize the skills of others.  A community offers a quid pro quo or an exchange of abilities that benefits everyone in the community.  To quote the Centers for Disease Control:  “Designing and building healthy communities can improve the quality of life for all people who live, work, worship, learn, and play within their borders—where every person is free to make choices amid a variety of healthy, available, accessible, and affordable options.”

 

In her book “Second Chance”, Jodi Picoult writes: ““Heroes didn’t leap tall buildings or stop bullets with an outstretched hand; they didn’t wear boots and capes. They bled, and they bruised, and their superpowers were as simple as listening, or loving. Heroes were ordinary people who knew that even if their own lives were impossibly knotted, they could untangle someone else’s. And maybe that one act could lead someone to rescue you right back.”  This sentiment is echoed by Kurt Vonnegut in his “Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage”:  “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”

 

“The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”  This quote by Jane Addams is just one of many used by the initiative Do One Thing.  This is funded by the Emily Fund.  Emily Rachel Silverstein, of Roosevelt, was tragically taken from us on April 9, 2009, at the tender age of 19. Born in New Brunswick, NJ on June 27, 1989, for most of her life Emily resided in Roosevelt, NJ, in Monmouth County. From an early age Emily was a creator. She was a skilled artist all of her life and most recently displayed her talents in her creative writing. Her sensitive and caring nature leant power and meaning to all of her works. At twelve years old she decided to become a vegetarian. She wrote her first letter to the president when she was in sixth grade. Her academic prowess followed her through high school as a member of the National Honor Society, and graduating with honors. She continued her success as a member of the Dean’s list at Gettysburg College, where she was an Anthropology Major, with an English Minor. She also participated in several extracurricular activities like the Hightstown High School Marching Band and swim team. Emily was a dedicated activist in all of her causes, which included Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). At Gettysburg, Emily lived in the Peace House, where she also served as the co-president, whose mission was to create awareness of world peace issues. She was involved in Amnesty International, Free the Children, Adopt a Holocaust Survivor Program, among many others. She was planning to participate in a week-long event, called Tent City, to help bring awareness to the homelessness crisis.

 

Emily lived in a Gettysburg College residence called Peace House with construction-paper flowers covering the windows and world music filling the hallways.  She died a death more violent than her friends care to imagine in her ex-boyfriend’s apartment a quarter-mile away, in a yellow clapboard house that neighbors say was always quiet.  Authorities said Kevin R. Schaeffer, also a Gettysburg College student, choked Emily early Thursday morning and then stabbed her in the neck with a steak knife. He sat with her for 15 minutes before putting her in a bathtub, according to a police affidavit.  Kevin confessed to the crime, according to the affidavit. He told police he had been drinking that evening but was not intoxicated. He said he had recently stopped taking Zoloft, an anti-depressant.  Kevin Schaeffer was arrested that morning and charged him with homicide, aggravated assault, possessing instruments of crime and tampering with evidence.

 

Emily Rachel Silverstein’s compassion, passion and creativity touched many lives. She shared many deep friendships and accomplished many amazing things. But there was so much more that she wanted to do to make this world a better place. There are so many more lives that she would have touched, inspired and empowered to join in the struggle for a more peaceful, just and sustainable world. The Emily Silverstein Fund (emilyfund.org) has been set up by her family to continue Emily’s legacy of hope and action for a better world, and her strong conviction that every act of compassion makes a difference.  By creating a community for caring and helping, the Emily Fund uses education, mentorship, inspiration, and leadership in building communities of youth for a better world.  Legendary activist Dorothy Day sums up the importance of community.  “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

 

Thoughts on Tradition

Thoughts on Tradition

2018.11.24-25

Growing Community

 

It is that time of year in which traditions seem to take on a higher priority.  Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, or something else, almost every community has its winter solstice-time traditions.  These traditions are generally passed from one generation to the next, and they provide a very important connection to the past.  Thus, these traditions are a direct link from the past to the future.  They give us direction, personal relationship and serve to honor the culture from which they originated.  We receive our core values from our traditions. 

 

Traditions and core values are important because they provide the framework of a community.  Within a family traditions serve to provide us identity.  Most of our traditions are based upon our history and they provide the framework for who we are today or in the present.  Our traditions reinforce the values we hold dear, the core values that help define us.  Through our traditions we celebrate those things that are dear to us and that we consider important.  By such celebrations we honor our role models, the tenets of our religious and/or spiritual beliefs, and the structure upon which our communities are built.

 

What happens when we stop honoring those traditions?  Award-winning author Frank Sonnenberg cautions that if we stop honoring our traditions, “our beliefs will get so diluted, over time, that our way of life will become foreign to us.”  Within the modern-day community, though, there are often differing traditions.  Our traditions do provide us a forum to show what is really important to us but what if our neighbor does not celebrate in the same way?

 

In the past culture is what brought a community together.  Culture referred to a pattern of human activity and the symbols which gave significance to tradition. Culture is represented through the art, literature, costumes, customs, and traditions of a community. Different cultures have always existed in different parts of the world. The natural environment greatly affected the lifestyle of the people in that region, thus shaping their culture. The diversity in the cultures around the world was also a result of the mindsets of people inhabiting different regions of the world.

 

Today, however, we have a far more mobile society and a community is often the home of varying cultures.  Culture has served to link people and their value systems.  Have we lost that in the 21st century?  Can we create culture among so many different behaviors?  At a time when people are shouting “remember the reason for the season”, have we forgotten how to be civil towards each other?  Traditions serve to unite us but at this time of year, they also serve to divide us.  Lawsuits will be filed to determine what symbols can be placed in public locations.  People will decry the “happy Holidays” that encompasses the complete community to honor a man who advocated love for all.  Can such a traditional saying meant to show support for all really be so divisive?

 

Traditions developed as a way to continue the family unit, to illustrate identity and for celebration.  Unfortunately, there are many who fear embracing the whole community.  Rather than our traditions promoting empathy and the engagement of citizenship, too often they serve to be contentious. 

 

I hope this year as we celebrate the core values behind our traditions we remember to let those traditions evolve.  We have a few traditions in our family that have developed from less than perfect times.  On a day where most people in our community and country eat turkey, we include hot tamales on our table.  We do serve turkey as well as ham, green bean casserole, corn pudding, stuffing, filling, dressing (the last three being very similar but each representing all sections of the cultures from which family members have been raised), potatoes (usually two kinds), etc.  A prominent spot on the table, however, is reserved for the hot tamales.  They represent a Thanksgiving gone bad but yet, at the end of the day when all we had to eat was one can of hot tamales, a day in which we truly appreciated our blessings and togetherness. 

 

It is wonderful to have the picture-perfect traditional dinner or holiday tree, etc.  Nonetheless, we should not consider the holiday ruined if it is not impeccable or flawless.  In our communities we need to strive more for inclusion and smiles rather than a movie-set depiction of any holiday.  I think the best way to keep our traditions – all our traditions – is by remembering their reason.  Most traditions are based upon love and strength.  This year I hope we find the strength to honor those who are different and share the love of life with them.  We build stronger communities through the tradition of community – the coming together, the engaging of others in a shared experience called life.

 

 

Mayflower Compact

Mayflower Compact

2018.11.21-22

Growing Community

 

If you go to the website plimouth.org, you will read what a community of Americans describes as the first Thanksgiving.  The community decided that was how they wished history to be.  However, it is not fact but rather a perspective that protected the community from seeming to be cruel or heartless.  Sometimes a community feels it must do such to protect itself.  I don’t know exactly when those in charge of Plimouth plantation decided to fabricate the partially true bit of history but it might fall under the heading of “fake news”.

 

Approximately 398 years ago, plus one day, the men aboard a ship of immigrants fleeing persecution were nearing the end of their sixty-six day journey across the Atlantic Ocean.  Hoping to soon set foot on dry land, they devised a legal and binding contract of behavior and governance for all to follow.  Before each man set foot off the ship he was expected to sign the document that, as of the late 1700’s, has become known as the Mayflower Compact. 

 

The ship these immigrants sailed upon was called the Mayflower and it was under the steerage of Christopher Jones.  Known as the master (today we would consider him the Captain), Jones’ quarters were at the back of the ship in the stern.  The sailors lived in quarters at the front of the ship and used a hole cut into the tip of the bow or head for their personal hygiene needs.  The quarters consisted on one room known as the forecastle, a wet room constantly hit by crashing waves and frequently quite cold.  In the area between the Captain’s berth and the forecastle were the quarters for the officers.

 

The passengers on the Mayflower were considered cargo.  One hundred and two men, women, and children lived in the dark cargo decks below the crew.  Today there are caravans of immigrants escaping persecution from Central and South America approaching the United States border but in 1620, the fleeing immigrants were below the decks, seldom seeing the sun and feeling the full brunt of the ocean’s currents, tides, and waves.

 

These immigrants in 1620 were known as the Pilgrims.  Before leaving England, they had obtained permission from the King of England to settle on land farther to the south near the mouth of the Hudson River (in present-day New York).  The wind drew them off course and instead landing farther south where they had expected to make shore, they landed in New England.  This meant they needed a new permission (called a patent) to settle there as all land in this New World had been claimed as property of the King of England. On November 11, 1620, feeling the need to maintain order and establish a civil society while they waited for this new patent, the adult male passengers signed the Mayflower Compact.

 

At this juncture, two important points need to be made.  First, there were over five thousand groups of people already living in this New World as the North American continent was known in 1620.  Claiming it for the sovereignty of England did not erase this fact.  These people had spent decades and centuries to reach this land mass, coming originally as immigrants from the Caucus Mountains.  Today in the USA they are called Native Americans or American Indians.  The Canadian term is much more apt – First Families.  Archaeological evidence places their arrival some thirty thousand years before Europeans reached North America and some twenty thousand years in South America.  It is estimated they arrived some fifteen thousand years before the Vikings reached the shores of northern North America.

 

The second important point is that communities make such compacts as a way of maintaining order.  This is true of religious communities, volunteer groups, municipalities, social organizations, businesses, etc.  It is to be hoped that such documents include all parties involved and are written to the greatest maximum benefit of all.  In keeping with the times, only men signed the Mayflower Compact as women were not considered to be of mental acuity to understand such.  Gender discrimination is not a modern-day issue.  Much like the laws of today, though, a piece of paper cannot guarantee success, or that all will follow what has been agreed upon, or that order will lead to a better tomorrow.  The community itself must work together for the betterment of all and be willing to chance.  If not, well…that is where things can often get complicated.  They certainly did in 1620.

 

Of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower, there were 50 men, 19 women and 33 young adults and children.  Just 41 were true Pilgrims, religious separatists seeking freedom from the Church of England.  The others were considered common folk and included merchants, craftsmen, indentured servants and orphaned children—the Pilgrims called them “strangers.”  Seeking the right to worship as they wished, the Pilgrims had signed a contract with the Virginia Company to settle on land near the Hudson River, which was then part of northern Virginia.  The Virginia Company was a trading company chartered by King James I with the goal of colonizing parts of the eastern coast of the New World.  London stockholders financed the Pilgrim’s voyage with the understanding they’d be repaid in profits from the new settlement.

 

The strangers argued the Virginia Company contract was void. They felt since the Mayflower had landed outside of Virginia Company territory, they were no longer bound to the company’s charter.  The defiant strangers refused to recognize any rules since there was no official government over them.  Pilgrim leader William Bradford later wrote, “… several strangers made discontented and mutinous speeches.”  The Pilgrims knew if something wasn’t done quickly it could be every man, woman and family for themselves.  It’s unclear who wrote the Mayflower Compact, but the well-educated Separatist and pastor William Brewster is usually given credit.  One now-famous colonist who signed the Mayflower Compact was Myles Standish. He was an English military officer hired by the Pilgrims to accompany them to the New World to serve as military leader for the colony. Standish played an important role in enforcing the new laws and protecting colonists against the natives of the area who were considered unfriendly.

 

In establishing a community, it should be noted that other communities must be considered.  The Europeans came to this new land mass wanting to own all and did not give thought to those who were already living on the land and considered it theirs.  Because they dressed differently, had different customs and practices, they were considered savage.  When they tried to protect their homes, gardens, food sources, and families, they were called unfriendly. 

 

William Bradford kept diaries and what we known of the original Mayflower Compact has been learned through his diaries.  The original handwritten document has been lost but copies remain from over one hundred years later that are considered good references for it.  The Mayflower Compact created laws for Mayflower Pilgrims and non-Pilgrims alike for the good of their new colony. It was a short document which established that: the colonists would remain loyal subjects to King James, despite their need for self-governance; the colonists would live in accordance with the Christian faith; the colonists would create one society and work together to further it; the colonists would create and enact “laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices…” for the good of the colony, and abide by those laws.  The newly-formed Plymouth (or Plimouth) colony was their new community and John Carver was elected governor on November 21, 1620, three hundred and ninety-eight days ago. 

 

That first year was brutal.  Disease, improper clothing for the elements, lack of food and shelter resulted in the deaths of over half of those making the voyage aboard the Mayflower.  Of the eighteen adult women in the new community, fifteen perished that first year.  The Mayflower Compact is considered important as it established self-governance in this new land, the first of any such.  It remained active until Plymouth Colony became part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.  John Carver perished that first year and William Bradford took over as governor. 

 

Also at the end of that first year, the new colonists discovered their neighbors were not so savage after all.  The end of the growing season meant the Indians would have their ritual of a harvest feast.  They invited the colonists to join them and the two communities, at least for several days, came together in peace and community.  Sadly, the Massachusetts Indians who were the hosts succumbed to the germs the English brought with them, typical everyday germs we all carry on our bodies.  There was no conspiracy to eliminate the Massachusetts tribe but it did.  The remaining thirty or so members of the tribe led by Chief Massasoit then joined a neighboring tribe, the Wampanoag Indians.  It was an Indian custom to have young men participate in an exchange program with neighboring tribes.  Such a custom shared knowledge but also led to an understanding and often, prevention of warfare.  It enabled the two somewhat different communities to ensure a future through discourse and education rather than annihilation.

 

Many believe the Mayflower Compact set the stage for the US Constitution.  However, the legislative branch of the US government bears more similarities to the governance of the Massachusetts and Wampanoag tribes than the Mayflower Compact.  This is, however, the way of history.  We form communities and we learn.  Those communities thrive when we gain and take the best of the past, giving thanks for lessons learned, and then move forward.  Of the time the Pilgrims had spent in the Dutch republic city of Leiden, historian Nathaniel Philbrick once wrote:  “Just as a spiritual covenant had marked the beginning of their congregation in Leiden, a civil covenant would provide the basis for a secular government in America.”

 

Many times we think of a spiritual covenant as relating to faith, a religious doctrine but I would offer that truly it is a nonphysical grouping of belief and we all have such.  This week might not be a time where you have an official Thanksgiving Holiday but I do think it a good time to give thanks.  We all should have an attitude of gratitude and move forward, committed to making our world a better community for all.  This provides not only a civil covenant for the future but a basis of a better tomorrow for us all. 

 

 

 

 

 

A verb, not a Noun

As a verb, not a noun

2018.11.20

Growing Community

I already mentioned in an earlier post that I think we need to update our definition of community.  Is a community the same as society?  Does it denote a commonality?  Has it evolved (maybe devolved) into merely a group of people communicating with each other?  I think the answer to all of these questions is no.  Certainly society is a part of community but I do not think the terms are synonyms for each other.  Today our communities are a diverse mix of cultures and beliefs rather than a melting pot of common traits.  I definitely believe our lack of listening, an integral part of communication, has led to the breakdown of community so no, we are not communicating with each other. 

Today a group of people living in one general area might be a conglomeration of strangers who simply share the same high rise or neighborhood.  It is not a community in the sense of being there to help one another or grow the area for the future.  All too often we have become a group of people who simply hare the same air.

Austin Kleon is a New York Times bestselling author of three books: Steal Like an Artist; Show Your Work!; and Newspaper Blackout. Kleon’s works focus on creativity in today’s world. He has spoken at organizations such as Pixar, Google, and TEDx, and at conferences such as The Economist’s Human Potential Summit and SXSW.  I think the answer to how we grow a community is best found in his blog entitled “We are verbs, not nouns.”

Kleon is not the first to use this quote which he did in his blog post of November 9th of this year.  In 2010 Stephen Fry in a 2010 radio interview quotes Oscar Wilde:  “Oscar Wilde said that if you know what you want to be, then you inevitably become it – that is your punishment, but if you never know, then you can be anything. There is a truth to that. We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing – an actor, a writer – I am a person who does things – I write, I act – and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.”

Kleon quoted R. Buckminsters in his “I Seem to be a Verb”:  I live on earth at present, and I don’t know what I am.  I know that I am not a category.  I am not a thing – a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process – an integral function of the universe.”

All of these have the key to how we create, grow, live, and sustain a community.  We do it.  We make it.  We live it.  We don’t worry about how to define the community or the people in it.  I tis something we actively engage in.  We live in the community by seeing all members of it and by doing for them what we would them to do for us.  When we engage in the building and growing of community we learn new and dimensions of the mind and heart.  We not only grow community, we grow ourselves.  We become much more than a label, a noun.  We become a verb, living, breathing life into everything we do.